At least 42 9/11 survivors and first responders have died from COVID-19, a new report has revealed.
As reported by The City as part of their on-going ‘Missing Them’ series, more than 1,300 others who lived near or responded to the World Trade Center have contracted coronavirus since the pandemic began.
Experts have warned that the current death toll is actually likely much higher than the 42 listed by the World Trade Center Health Program, citing insufficient data.
Among those killed by the disease is first responder Michael Field, who arrived at the World Trade Center on 9/11, moments after the first plane struck the North Tower at 8:46am.
The FDNY emergency medical technician ended up working at Ground Zero site for the following nine months, digging through the rubble and dust as the desperate rescue operation soon turned into lengthy recovery effort.
His wife, Stacey Field, said Michael later developed rheumatoid arthritis and pulmonary issues that she believes were triggered by his months-long work at the site.
On April 8, Michael died from complications brought on by COVID-19. The 59-year-old, of Valley Stream, Long Island, left behind his wife and three adult children.
Among those killed by the disease is first responder Michael Field, who arrived at the World Trade Center on 9/11, moments after the first plane struck the North Tower at 8:46am
Firefighters walk towards one of the towers at the World Trade Center before it collapsed after a plane hit the building September 11, 2001
Stacey Field said her husband and other workers were told at the time that ‘everything was fine down there’ as they searched through the wreckage of Ground Zero.
Just seven days after the attack, then- federal Environmental Protection Agency head Christine Todd Whitman assured that the air surrounding the fallen towers ‘is safe to breathe.’ A report conducted by the Office of Inspector General said two years later determined the EPA lacked sufficient evidence to make such an assertion.
While 42 9/11 first responders or survivors are currently reported to have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic first began in early March, experts and WTC Health Program officials are warning that the toll is likely much higher.
In April, reports suggested the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) had not been adequately monitoring the pandemic’s impact on the 79,000 first responders and more than 26,000 survivors enlisted among its ranks.
The group responded by tallying up those affected by the deadly disease. In the last six months, the group reported that more than 1,300 people who worked or lived close to Ground Zero and other 9/11 sites have contracted the coronavirus.
The City reported that gathering a precise tally of infections and deaths has proved troublesome. At the beginning of the pandemic, it’s reported that only those who saw or contacted health care providers affiliated with WTCHP were counted.
Spokesperson for the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, Stephanie Stevens, said the clinic later began calling members who fell into the CDC’s high-risk category for complications from COVID-19.
WTC Health Program clinics are now scheduling monitoring exams that they hope will help them learn the COVID-19 status of enrollees more accurately, she said.
‘This data is collected passively,’ said Stevens. ‘Each clinic took a different approach.’
It’s currently unclear whether the death of Michael Field, who is one of 105,000 enrolled in the WTCHP, is reflected in the 42 deaths logged so far.
The total number of people enrolled in the WTCHP is also reported to account for just 25 percent of those estimated to have been exposed to toxic dust both during and after the attacks.
Of the members tracked, 55 percent have developed a 9/11-related illness and 2,955 had died before the pandemic. An additional 541 died between March 31, 2020 and June 30, 2020, according to the CDC.
In the last six months, the group reported that at least 1,300 people who worked or lived close to Ground Zero and other 9/11 sites have contracted the coronavirus
In excess of 58,000 survivors and first responders in the program have reported suffering after effects, such as respiratory problems and pulmonary disease, in 9/11’s wake
In excess of 58,000 survivors and first responders in the program have reported suffering after effects, such as respiratory problems and pulmonary disease, in 9/11’s wake.
Survivors have also suffered a higher rate of cancer diagnoses than the general population, WTCHP statistics show.
The underlying health conditions make them far more vulnerable to COVID-19, considering the virus’ tendency to attack the lungs and compromised immune systems.
It’s believed that around 400,000 people were exposed to the toxic dust caused by the 9/11 attacks. Only around a quarter of this number is believed to have screened for related illness.
The long term effects of the exposure to the toxic dust is still not fully understood even today.
Michael Barasch, a lawyer whose firm represents more than 20,000 people who developed health conditions after 9/11, said his clients are uniquely vulnerable to the coronavirus.
‘Whether you have a serious respiratory illness or chemo or radiation, that is going to make your immune system compromised,’ he told The City. ‘They get coronavirus and they die.’
Barasch told the outlet that at least 98 of his clients have died from coronavirus since March, all of whom had underlying respiratory illnesses caused by 9/11 or were cancer survivors.
The City was able to identify 23 9/11 survivors who have since died of COVID-19, through public records, news reports and social media tributes. Barasch wouldn’t confirm if any of those named were among his clientele.
At least 11 of those found suffered from 9/11-related illnesses such as respiratory issues or cancer, the outlet said.
Among the dead, is former NYPD detective and retired firefighter Anthony Iraci, 48, who developed a respiratory illness after being exposed to toxic dust while working the Ground Zero site. He passed away on March 27, family members confirmed to Staten Island Live.
‘The doctors at RUMC told me how bad his lungs were, and they were waiting for the results of the coronavirus test,’ his wife Melissa said at the time. ‘But even though I couldn’t be with him, I know the doctors and nurses tried their hardest and I really feel a connection with them. I am so grateful for the care they gave him.’
A 27-year veteran of the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services bureau, Idris Bey, also died of COVID-19 on April 22, in Coney Island.
Bey served in the United States Marine Corps and as an E.M.T. responded to the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. He died aged 60.
‘He was there during 9/11 when those buildings came down,’ Nehemiah Chandler, a close friend told the New York Times. ‘His ambulance was totally destroyed and many people thought that he and his partner may have died, but he survived and continued to put his life at risk to help as best he could.’
A 27-year veteran of the Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services bureau, Idris Bey, also died of COVID-19 on April 22, in Coney Island. Bey served in the United States Marine Corps and as an E.M.T. responded to the attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11. He died aged 60.
Queens resident and Cypriot national, Peter Panayiotou succumbed to the virus on April 5, leaving behind his wife and five children. He had been overseeing a renovations at his diner near to the WTC on 9/11
To ensure the safety of 9/11 survivors and first responders, the FDNY Commissioner has asked them to forgo remembrance events this year
Queens resident and Cypriot national, Peter Panayiotou, had been overseeing renovation at his Gee Whiz diner a few blocks away from the World Trade Center when the planes struck the towers, his family said.
Panayiotou survived the attack and managed to evacuate from downtown Manhattan, fleeing to Greenwich Street. But in 2009, he developed scleroderma in his lungs, which hardens muscle tissue.
He underwent a successful lung transplant in 2013, but was required to take strong immunotherapy suppressants here-on after.
His family said they began to panic in March when the coronavirus began ravaging its way across the country, knowing that the 65-year-old’s health made him a high risk.
‘He was taking precautions, at the beginning, when everything was going on,’ his daughter Margaret told The City. ‘But he had to still be at the restaurant. It wasn’t like we were having the quarantine yet.’
Panayiotou was diagnosed with coronavirus on March 23. Within days, he unable to breathe.
He later succumbed to the virus on April 5, leaving behind his wife and five children.
‘He was there [at Gee Whiz] 24 hours, he was there more than he was home. The TriBeCa community, his workers, the customers that came in, that was his family,’ his daughter added. ‘He was a very caring person. He didn’t deserve this.’
To ensure the safety of 9/11 survivors and first responders, the FDNY Commissioner has asked them to forgo remembrance events this year.
Stacy Field told The City her husband always had a tough time participating in remembrance events.
‘He just, he didn’t want to go through more of it. He didn’t want to,’ she said. ‘A lot of the documentaries and, you know, like 9/11 he would never sit and watch. You know the people reading the names and everything? He couldn’t deal with it.’